FINAL: France 2, Nigeria 0
The score line doesn't indicate it, but France, which glided through Group E with minimal resistance, was pushed hard by an aggressive Nigerian side on Monday.
World class keeping from Nigerian goalie Vincent Enyeama kept it 0-0 until the 78th minute, but France's Paul Pogba broke through with a late header into an open net. Enyeama, trying to catch a corner mid-flight, had abandoned his line leaving Pogba open for an easy knock. A stoppage-time own goal against Nigerian defender Joseph Yobo marred the gutsy effort, but France ultimately moved on to the quarterfinals where it will face either Germany or Algeria.
Karim Benzema, France's Golden Boot contender with three goals entering today, was largely ineffective save for a few moments ahead of Pogba's tally. A dangerous header from Benzema set up the corner, which came on the heels of more good work from him and Mathieu Valbuena in the attacking third.
The second goal was a bit lucky, but it's all about putting the ball in dangerous spots. Valbuena took a late short corner kick and crossed it along the endline. He was looking for a cutting Antoine Griezmann but the well-placed pass bounced off Yobo into the net for the final separation.
Nigeria pressured France's backline all game with angled attacks from Emmanuel Emenike, Peter Odemwingie and and Ahmed Musa. Emenike thought he scored off a toe-poke in the first half but he was flagged for offsides. Most of the second half chances were reserved for France as Nigeria was left to fend off the incessant attack. The fact that it was even until the 78 minute is a tribute to Enyeama, who came up with two massive saves against Benzema and Pogba that should've surely been goals.
Although it was tested, Didier Deschamps' side earned this victory with tenacity and effort. It wasn't the sort of game Les Bleus wanted -- Nigeria easily could've scored a number of times -- but it adapted, and its subs (Griezmann, in particular) proved vital. At this point in the World Cup, winning is all that matters.
Yobo own goal in 91st minute:
91' -- GOAL!! FRANCE!! Nigerian defender Joseph Yobo accidentally taps one in off a short corner cross intended for Antoine Griezmann. That'll do it.
90' -- Five minutes of added time, so there's still more work to be done. Seems like a lot of extra time, but France was milking a few injuries.
89' -- Corner coming for France, and they'll be in no rush to take it.
88' -- Moses out, Nwofor on for the Super Eagles.
86' -- Debuchy is down. Debuchy is up. So it goes for teams with a one-goal advantage late in games.
83' -- Griezmann blasts an angled shot deep inside the box and Enyeama is up for the deflection again. Hope his performance isn't overshadowed by one mistake.
The Pogba goal:
80' -- For how incredible Enyeama has been, you can't leave your line if you don't catch the ball on a corner. Fatal error.
78' -- GOAL!!! FRANCE!!! Pogba heads in a bouncing ball after Enyeama charges off his line leaving the goal wide open.
77' -- THE ENYEAMA SHOW!! He flicks a close-range header from Benzema just over the bar to keep a clean sheet. Corner coming.
76' -- Near heartbreak for Nigeria. Cabaye blasts a rebound off the crossbar from just outside the box, and he can't believe it. Just incredible dipping shot that Enyeama could've done nothing about. Still 0-0.
75' -- Another stellar diving block from Enyeama. He came off his line and punched away a dangerous Griezmann cross. His reactions have been superb today. Put him in the same class as Ochoa and Navas.
74' -- Benzema misses another shot on goal and Brasilia fans shower France with boos. Fans clearly pulling for Super Eagles upset.
72' -- Benzema chance was created from a perfect one-touch via Griezmann. He subbed on for Giroud and is already making a bigger impact.
France misses its shot:
70' -- Looks like Ambrose is injured from challenge in the box. Has been great today pressing up from the right side.
69' -- ENYEAMA!! He stuffs Karim Benzema from the six and Victor Moses clears it mere inches from crossing the line. Benzema down on his knees regretting the miss.
68' -- Great stop from Koscielny to knock away a cross from Musa just in front of the goal mouth. Corner coming. It's finally a good cross from the Super Eagles, but all the strikers ran near post instead of far post. Horrible miscommunication all day long on set pieces.
66' -- Oshaniwa just gets a foot on a bouncing volley and prevents Pogba from whipping a shot right in front of the goal. Could've been the difference there. Instead, Nigeria in the clear.
63' -- Huge chance from Odemwingie as he works it towards the center of the box and blasts one with his left foot through a few defenders. Nigeria is pressing full-throttle. Shot gave Lloris a bit of trouble but there was no follow-up.
62' -- Nigeria, yes, Nigeria is imposing itself in the final third in front of France's goal. Emenike, Ambrose, Odemwingie all playing keep away. Won't matter if they can't get inside the box, but has to be disconcerting for Didier Deschamps' side.
61' -- SUB: Giroud out, Griezmann in. Poor showing for Giroud today.
59' -- Emenike cracks one from just outside the box with his right foot, but doesn't test Lloris. Had enough power, just didn't have the precision.
This is not a legal tackle:
SUB: Gabriel on for injured Onazi.
54' -- Horrible challenge from Matuidi who clips Onazi with his cleats. Clips isn't really the right description. More like stomps the yard. Yellow card for him and Onazi is down. Looks like he's coming off. Deserved a red, in my opinion.
51' -- Efe Ambrose with some excellent work pushing high on the right side. He crosses to it Emenike who gets flagged for offsides. Ball deflects away off defender Raphael Varane, who's now sitting down in the goal. Looks like he had his bell rung. Concussion?
49' -- Nigerian defender Juwon Oshaniwa limping a bit now as he walks off. Just like that, he's back on the field. These injuries, man.
47' -- Victor Moses earns another corner kick for Nigeria, and AGAIN, a poor entry pass. Just sloppy stuff from both sides in the final third. Super Eagles strikers weren't even angling their runs when kick was taken.
46' -- Great work from Giroud with a steal in the back but his passes have been terrible today. He crosses it nowhere near France's strikers and chance goes out the window ... again.
46' -- We're off.
According to our MatchTracker (you should click), France has four shots inside the box while Nigeria has zero. All it needs is to connect on one cross, though and this game gets very interesting.
HALFTIME: France 0 - Nigeria 0
A wildly entertaining first half despite the fact that we didn't have any goals. France's Paul Pogba had the best opportunity of the match as he volleyed a cross from the right wing directly into Vincent Enyeama.
Can't exactly blame Pogba as much as you can praise Enyeama for his reaction. Nigeria, surprisingly, has had as many if not more chances than France.
Emmanuel Emenike fired a rocket from the left edge of the box that Hugo Lloris safely knocked away. It could've been a legitimate rebound chance for the Super Eagles had Victor Moses not inadvertently touched it with his hand. Emenike had a goal disallowed in the 18th minute after he was (correctly) flagged for offsides, but aside from that, nothing too substantial from Nigeria.
Both sides have shown remarkably well in their build-ups, but neither has found the sequence to unlock the opposing defense. That doesn't mean it hasn't been riveting end-to-end action.
Need to see better finishing from France and more activity in general from Benzema. If they can't knock one home, don't be surprised if Nigeria plucks this game right from their grasp.
Grab yourself a croissant and get ready for the second half.
Debuchy miss from earlier. Basically indicative of Les Bleus' first half.
45' -- Another France build up goes awry with an ill-timed header from Giroud. The midfield play and counters have been fantastic. The work in the attacking third ... not so much.
43' -- Emenike blasts one from the left edge and Lloris deflects it away, confidently. Could've been a chance for Victor Moses but the ball bounced off his arm. France keeps it clean.
43' -- Odemwingie with consecutive tackles in the back. Complete team effort from Nigeria defensively.
41' -- Surprisingly little action from Benzema this first half. Lots of crosses but he doesn't seem to be the target. Nigerian patchwork defense holding strong.
40' -- After the miss from Pogba, that was the most promising build up from Les Bleus this game.
39' -- Valbuena to Debuchy off a great angled run, and Debuchy can't put it on goal from the 18. Enyeama fortunate for that miss.
Not much interest in this match from Paris ...
33' -- Long cross finds Debuchy on the far end of the box, but the angle just isn't there. Blasts it way over the bar. France with a second chance but Pogba plays three straight poor passes and the opportunity passes.
33' -- France's midfield starting to press high and impose itself. Pogba, Valbuena working well in the neutral zone.
30' -- Yet another corner coming from Nigeria. To this point, Musa's deliveries haven't been very good. Again, another low cross and Keshi may want to consider another kicker. Nigeria's forwards haven't had a chance in the air.
29' -- Giroud throws an elbow but it goes unseen by Mark Geiger's crew. France clearly frustrated that Nigeria is having its way in the offensive third.
About that save from Enyeama ...
24' -- End-to-end action with both teams going for it. Something's gonna give shortly.
21' -- Enyeama stuffs a point-blank one-timer from Pogba. HUGE save to keep it level. Pogba can't believe it. Told you he's one of the best keepers left in the tournament.
The disallowed goal --
20' -- France responds immediately but Benzema was flagged for offsides as well. Possession has to be slightly in favor of Nigeria, but both sides getting deep inside the box.
18' -- GOAL WAVED OFF FOR NIGERIA!! Emenike slides one in off the cross, but he was clearly a half-foot offsides. Wow.
17' -- Pogba goes extremely high against Victor Moses, almost kicks him in the face. Pogba already has a yellow, so that wasn't smart.
16' -- Injury update: Onazi back on the pitch.
15' -- Another foul on Matuidi against Odemwingie. Dangerous spot just outside the box. Nigeria playing with a ton of quality, just haven't connected on two or three crosses.
14' -- Meanwhile, free kick gets headed to back post but Lloris hauls it in. Attacking sequences have had loads of promise, but nothing on frame ... yet.
12' -- Midfielder Ogenyi Onazi is down and in obvious pain. Stretcher is coming out. Looked like he collided with Pogba in the middle.
12' -- Dangerous free kick coming for Nigeria. Great work from Emenike along the left flank.
Anyone else see some "BIG GREEN" in Nigeria's unis?
— Michael Singer (@RealMikeSinger) June 30, 2014
Yeah, me neither.
9' -- Both teams playing a very similar style, trying to attack down the right side. Moses and Musa for Nigeria, Valbuena and Giroud for Les Bleus. No substantial chances, but they're coming. No doubt, they're coming.
5' -- Nigeria working extremely hard to get the ball up and it's working. Doubt it can sustain this energy, but for better or for worse, this is how they play. Odemwingie can't corral a perfect cross and France clears it.
3' -- Poor corner kick from Musa, but Nigeria maintains possession in France's half. Nice early run from them.
1' -- Game going to be a lot more exciting than Costa Rica-Greece. Both teams play with a ton of energy up front.
1' -- We're off from Brazil's capital.
PREGAME: Nigeria showed what it was capable of by scaring Cup contender Argentina. Its offense can score in bunches, but questions abound along the defensive front. Couple that with France, which has been one of the most feared offensive sides of the entire World Cup, and I'm not sure Nigeria can withstand the attacking verve of Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba. France's goalie Hugo Lloris has been a menace against opposing strikers and Nigeria would do well to grab an early goal. We're less than 30 minutes away with a spot in the quarterfinals on the line.
As expected, France is back to its normal starting XI after resting numerous regulars against Ecuador in the final group match. Patrice Evra and Paul Pogba enter today's game with yellow cards, FYI.
Nigeria starters: Enyeama, Ambrose, Yobo, Oshaniwa, Omeruo, Onazi, Mikel, Musa, Odemwingie, Moses, Emenike
France starters: Lloris, Debuchy, Varane, Koscielny, Evra, Pogba, Matuidi, Cabaye, Valbuena, Giroud, Benzema
Nigeria vs. France | Kickoff: 6/30, 12 p.m. ET | Stadium: Mane Garrinche, Brasilia
Match Preview: France crushed Group E, finishing the first round of the World Cup with seven points and eight goals. It's already largely atoned for the 2010 disaster, but with how strong it looked against Honduras and Switzerland, expectations have been raised.
Golden Boot contender Karim Benzema (three goals) has been the focal point of Les Bleus' offense, along with midfielders Paul Pogba, Mathieu Valbuena, and Yohan Cabaye. While Benzema is the primary threat on offense, the midfielders will need to concentrate on controlling possession and limiting Nigeria's varied attackers.
"They're a good team, they caused Argentina problems. They are powerful, quick up front and hardworking in the midfield," Cabaye said, referencing Nigeria's 3-2 loss to Lionel Messi and Co. "They play with a lot of energy."
Nigeria finished second in Group F, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina -- a team it beat 1-0 -- and Iran (0-0). It's got a few dangerous strikers in Ahmed Musa, who scored both goals against Argentina, Peter Odemwingie and Emmanuel Emenike. Nigeria likes to spread the field and attack with pace from all angles. It's backed up by keeper Vincent Enyeama, who led the French Ligue 1 with the most shutouts.
Nigeria, like France in 2010, is said to be dealing with internal turmoil ahead of its first knockout game since 1998. Players didn't show up for practice last week amid a reported dispute over bonuses, and it's yet to be seen whether that angst will manifest tomorrow for Stephen Keshi's side.
France's famous flameout seems like a thing of the past, but Nigeria could put up a fight similar to how it showed against Argentina. A quarterfinals match against either Germany or Algeria is on the line. Will the favorites prevail?